Labor pains in pregnancy are the pains associated with the labor process and contractions that occur to prepare the body for giving birth. The contractions are what cause the pains, and they prepare the uterus for delivery by causing the cervix to thin and soften before birth and then later to dilate, creating the natural exit route for the fetus. All this preparation is hard work, often painful; hence the name.
True labor pains are a sign that childbirth is beginning and are the result of contractions occurring at regular intervals, lasting anywhere from 30 seconds to a minute or more. They generally grow stronger as time elapses and delivery draws near. Pains from contractions generally begin in the lower back and move across the front of the body to the stomach.
During childbirth, a woman may choose to relieve labor pains with drugs that block the pain or may choose to practice techniques that help manage the pain. The choice is a personal one that can only be made by the mother based on what she is experiencing. In some cases, pains are present, but the labor process does not evolve as it should. In this case, drugs may be given to assist with the labor process, or a cesarean section may be necessary.
False labor pains, or Braxton-Hicks contractions, may occur as delivery gets nearer, but do not signify that the birth process is beginning. These are marked by irregular contractions that come and go sporadically, ease or stop by changing position or walking, are often felt only in the lower abdomen or groin area, and are accompanied by no release of amniotic fluid. These may seem real, but usually pass with no event. If your water breaks or you begin bleeding or experience contractions at regular intervals, you should call your doctor or midwife or go to the hospital.
Pre-term labor pains, or signs of labor that occur before 37 weeks of pregnancy, should be brought to the attention of your obstetrician. Pre-term labor that results in premature delivery increases the chance that your baby will need special medical attention at birth. Women who experience painful or regular contractions prior to 37 weeks should see a physician.
While labor and delivery can be painful, it is a natural, though challenging, process that most women meet with little difficulty. You can best prepare yourself for labor and delivery by taking childbirth classes and visiting the hospital or facility where you will give birth.